Martine Rothblatt’s Take on Israel’s Future in a Post-National Mideast

Martine Rothblatt
Martine Rothblatt

The stale joke is that Israel is already “the fifty-first state.”

My friend, Martine Rothblatt, seriously explored the underlying premise over a decade ago in “Two Stars for Peace: The Case for Using U.S. Statehood to Achieve Lasting Peace in the Middle East” (iUniverse, 2003).

A Southern California product born in San Diego and raised in Los Angeles, Martine Rothblatt when we first met at UCLA in the 1970s was a near-penniless undergraduate, doing part-time work in the Westwood offices of Armand Hammer’s Occidental Petroleum. Even then Rothblatt had world-changing ambitions for marrying law to satellite technology. Yet in those days, Martine was Martin, the father of a beautiful multiracial child, Eli, whose mother was a young Kenyan whom Martin met and married while on a teenage wanderjahr in Africa without exactly his parents’ approval.

“Two Stars” is the handiwork of a close observer of the Mideast who considers herself a Zionist indebted to Herzl. Whether or not the reader agrees, “Two Stars” is the thought-provoking attempt by a visionary who loves both the USA and Israel to think originally about how to ensure the survival of Jewish national identity in a world that that must somehow be fundamentally changed so that it abandons its congenital indifference or hostility to the essence of Zionism.

Rothblatt sees globalization transforming unitary nation states: “Newly-liberated former Soviet satellites in Eastern Europe are falling over each other to cede sovereignty to the transnational European Union. It is a bit too soon to declare single-state nations moribund, but multi-state unions are the wave of the future.” Her second major premise is the same as Herzl’s, i.e., that a majority Jewish polity of some sort is the only sure guarantee against Jewish victimization as a dispersed minority. The “the two-state solution” won’t work because it is prescription for never-ending conflict between Israelis justifiably concerned over secure borders and Palestinians with irredentist designs on the Jewish state. Instead, Rothblatt advocates a “two-star” solution with not only Israel but Palestine joining the United States, respectively as the fifty-first and fifty-second states, within borders that would roughly follow those before the 1967 War.

Israel and Palestine as U.S. states would not be sovereign over defense, immigration, or currency, but would have the compensation of joining the world’s only military and economic super power. The IDF would be reconstituted as a National Guard, and the Dollar would replace the Shekel. Israel’s state flag could feature the Star of David—and Palestine’s the Crescent—because these are secular as well as religious symbols. West and East Jerusalem would serve as respective state capitols. A majority Jewish state could close government offices on the Jewish Sabbath for secular reasons, while a majority Palestinian state could be bilingual in Arabic.

No “bleeding heart” liberal, Rothblatt challenges Palestinians with this argument for the “two-star” solution: “can Palestine be like the smart developing country that bypasses investment in an archaic wired network telephone network and goes straight to universal wireless service? In other words, are the Palestinian people able to leapfrog over post-colonial nationhood and advance straight to an equal membership in a twenty-first century union?” She recognizes that Israelis would be “taking the biggest risk,” but offers this calculus of benefit: “Israelis also have the most to gain. . . . The Jews who heeded Herzl’s call and fled Europe for Israel before the rise of Nazism risked a lot, but gained much more. The Jews who fled Eastern Europe for America around 1900 risked all they knew they had, but also gained a great deal more. Two thousand years of Diaspora has bred a strong risk-taking strain into the Jewish character.”

For the United States, Rothblatt argues that the initial expense of absorbing perhaps six million Israelis and three million Palestinians would put no more additional strain on the federal budget and national economy than the current costs of absorbing millions of immigrants each year, while the long-term economic and security benefits to the United States of her “two-star” solution to the Mideast problem would be immense. How would the rest of Americans react to the first “majority Jewish” and “majority Muslim” states? Well, the U.S. absorbed majority-Mormon Utah.

Rothblatt’s Mideast solution cannot come to pass without a change in the “conventional wisdom” that would border on the miraculous. Yet Two Stars highlights some important new realities. Sovereignty should not be elevated into a shibboleth if it doesn’t translate into security. And federalism—whether on the American, the Swiss, or some other model—should not be ruled out for what, perhaps someday, could be a binational or even trinational federation in the Holy Land.

Even if you dismiss that prospect out of hand, “Two Stars” illuminates some of the reasons for the failure of the artificial nation state system imposed on the Mideast after World War I by the colonial powers.

About the Author
Born in the shadow of the old Yankee Stadium, I grew up in Los Angeles where I did my undergraduate and graduate work at UCLA. I spent 10 years teaching at American universities before joining the Wiesenthal Center. I've published widely, both in journalism and in scholarship. My new book, coauthored with Ephraim Isaac, "From Abraham to Obama: A History of Jews, Africans, and African Americans," will be published next month by Africa World Press.